With the division clinched early, much discussion on Dodgers Twitter has shifted towards which teams fans would like to face in the playoffs (and, just as importantly, who they’d prefer to avoid).
Watching the Cubs-Cardinals ninth inning just now, I started wondering to myself, as a Dodger fan, whom I least wanted to face this postseason. The answer I came up with was … my demons.
— Jon Weisman (@jonweisman) September 20, 2019
As we enter the final stretch of the regular season, it’s worth pondering each possible playoff match-up. From NL wild card contenders to likely World Series foes, let’s take a look at every possible foe for the Dodgers next month. Each matching is rated on a scale from 1 to 10 in terms of stakes, narrative value, and other tangibles.
National League Playoffs
If there’s one wild card team in the NL with the tools to leverage a spot into a World Series run, it’s these guys. Recent Blue Heaven Podcast guest, and former Dodger Brett Tomko agrees. In the first season of the post-Harper era, the Nats have turned a nearly lost season into a solid run thanks to elite pitching and Anthony Rendon’s MVP-worthy breakout season. (One that could even land him in a Dodgers uniform this offseason.)
The two teams have already met in the 2016 NLDS, a white-knuckle affair that ended with Clayton Kershaw’s heroic save in game five. But there’s not much else to chew on besides that. Even if you stretch back in Washington franchise history to include the 1981 NLCS in Montreal, Nats vs. Dodgers doesn’t intrigue in and of itself. Maybe it would if Harper had signed with Los Angeles!
What the series would lack in narrative it would make up for in pitching prowess. But even that would be neutered a bit by having to burn Scherzer in the WC game, thus ensuring he’d only pitch in game three. This would still be a fascinating (potentially nerve-wracking) series, but one that doesn’t feel super animated narrative-wise.
Given these two historic franchises have met in two of the past three National League Championship Series, winning once each, this should make for a banger of a rubber match on paper. But the Cubs look like a team whose window is closing, failing to assert themselves as the top cop in the NL Central for second straight year.
Many Dodger fans would no doubt place a lot of emotional value in a chance to punish Yu Darvish. But outside of that, this would likely be a one-sided affair for the Dodgers. After devastating losses to the rival Cardinals this past week, a third meeting of Dodger and Cubbie blue likely won’t have a chance to happen anyway.
For much of 2019, the NL MVP race was a DiMaggio/Williams-esque race that saw Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich trade the lead on a daily basis. Then came a fractured right kneecap that ended Yelich’s season. Somehow, the Brewers have been playing even better without their 2018 NL MVP, and now look like a lock as the Cubs fade.
Just one year ago, these two teams made for a spectacular NLCS that magnified every single moment. But with no Yelich, a rematch just doesn’t have the same spark, especially for robbing a chance for him or Bellinger to put an exclamation point on their MVP case.
The teams were also more evenly matched last year, with L.A.’s playoff experience proving just the hair of difference. This year, the Dodgers are far superior, and while Milwaukee’s run is admirable, it’s hard to see them making it far in the postseason without Yelich.
St. Louis Cardinals
If there’s one NL team that strikes fear into the hearts of Dodgers Nation, it’s the Redbirds. Since the terror of Ozzie Smith and Jack Clark in the 1985 NLCS, the St. Louis Cardinals have meted out postseason pain in every single meeting except 2009. This current era of Dodger success was christened with the punishments Clayton Kershaw took from Matt Carpenter and Matt Adams.
On paper, the 2019 Cardinals may not look like the biggest threat. But many people said the same going into the 2014 NLDS, and we know how that turned out. St. Louis are the NL’s Yankees not only in terms of talent development, but for their old-school culture that emphasizes championship prestige above all else. If the calendar reads October, you can never count them out.
It would be scary for Los Angeles to walk that line again, especially knowing how brutal Carpenter can be on the big stage. But in a season where the Dodgers must win it all or nothing at all, it would only be fitting to exorcise the original demons of the Kershaw Era along the way.
Despite their rich history together, the Dodgers and the Braves don’t have anything that approaches a rivalry like that with the Cardinals. But that doesn’t change the fact that this would be an electric series from top to bottom. Atlanta has been underrated in their all-around prowess this year.
Not that it’s surprising, honestly. For all the Phillies hype, I picked ATL to win the NL East earlier this year. The combination of the Baby Braves being a year wiser, paired with savvy veteran pickups Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann, proved to be perfect. They’ve even given the Dodgers a good scare for the best record in the NL.
That awful Tomahawk Chop aside, the Braves don’t really inspire too much hatred in Chavez Ravine. An NLCS with them, however, would stir the right kind of passion, one borne out of watching playoff baseball at its finest. Here’s hoping it happens.
Tampa Bay Rays
Aside from Andrew Friedman facing his old team, what intrigue would really come out of this? As an expansion team just over 20 years old, there’s basically no history between these two franchises.
Which isn’t to say it couldn’t be interesting in terms of play. The Rays have returned to relevance after years on the fringe, thanks chiefly to their strong rotation. They split four interleague games with the Dodgers this season, proof they can hold their own with a big market team.
One thing that would kind of undermine it, though, would be WS games at Tropicana Field. With the Metrodome long gone, it’s the undisputed worst stadium in baseball. It’d be even more discomfiting to see that ugly dome suddenly filled to the rafters given Tampa’s notorious attendance problems.
Again, this is not to disrespect the Rays, an incredibly likable team and a model franchise for baseball. But who knows? The contrast in financial status yet comparable level of talent could make for one hell of a series. I’d be happy to be proven wrong.
This is a match-up most people probably aren’t expecting, especially since Cleveland could miss out in hard-luck fashion in the AL wild card. And that’s a shame, because this would honestly make for a great series.
First, there is shared history. The Indians won their first title against Brooklyn in 1920. Second, the Indians now sport Yasiel Puig. What could be juicier than the Wild Horse having a shot at getting back at the team that traded him this past off-season?
Most of all, it would be a series of brutal urgency for both teams. The Indians shoulder the longest title drought in MLB, having not won it since 1948. Their window is likely closing too. And the Dodgers…well, you know. 1948 vs. 1988. Who would see their misery end?
If this article were just my personal preference, it would begin and end with this. But you already knew that. I am a long-suffering Twins fanatic, and a Twins-Dodgers World Series is my ultimate sports dream.
But beyond being a weirdo CA-bred Twins fan, how interesting is this to everyone else? Honestly…a lot more than you’d think. First, it would be a rematch of the 1965 World Series, a seven-game battle best remembered for Sandy Koufax’s adherence to Yom Kippur that made his game seven dominance all the more majestic.
Second, it could be potentially dramatic. The “Bomba Squad” has set the Minneapolis skyline (and many others) ablaze with a record home run tally this season, which would make for a real challenge. However, the Dodgers’ starting pitching is far, far superior to Minnesota’s, so that could make this a fairly quick series.
Oh, and one more thing, in case you forgot: Marwin Gonzalez is one of their key players. I’m learning to love him…but the rest of Dodgers Nation would no doubt love to get some sweet, sweet revenge.
This would be perhaps the most fun of any World Series pairing. And narrative-wise, it would be a perfect contrast: the scraggly, low-budget Athletics trying to make Moneyball go all the way, versus the zillionaire Dodgers. Plus: Rich Hill and Max Muncy facing their old team!
Unlike a meeting with Tampa Bay, however, there’s history tied to this one. The two teams have already met twice in the World Series, in 1974 and 1988. Oakland took the first, and (obviously) Los Angeles the second. A rubber match between these influential franchises is overdue.
The only downside would be having to watch multiple games in Oakland’s hideously outmoded stadium. I love A’s fans, and I’ve practically lived at that stadium I’ve attended so many games since 2000 with my family. But the Coliseum is a dinosaur, one that can’t be replaced soon enough.
Then again if you love a poetic mirror image, well…who wouldn’t want to clinch the next title at the very ground where the last one was secured 31 years ago? Just imagine Clayton Kershaw being hoisted by Russell Martin, Hershiser/Dempsey style. Ah…that feels good.
New York Yankees
From 1941 to 1981, the Dodgers and Yankees weren’t just frequent World Series rivals. They WERE the World Series, elevating the Fall Classic with idyllic moments aplenty. Mickey Owen’s passed ball, Bill Bevens’ near no-hitter, Jackie Robinson’s controversial steal of home, Sandy Amoros’ snow cone catch, Don Larsen’s perfect game, Sandy Koufax’s domination, Reggie Jackson’s three-homer blitz, Bob Welch striking him out the next year, the Infield’s final triumph in 1981, etc.
The rosters of those 11 match-ups read like the entirety of baseball royalty: Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Robinson, Don Newcombe, Roy Campanella, Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, Koufax, Don Drysdale, Jackson, Catfish Hunter, Don Sutton, Casey Stengel, Walter Alston, Tommy Lasorda, Billy Martin, Bob Lemon….you get the idea.
2019 wouldn’t be any different. Stanton, Judge, Sabathia, LeMahieu, and Severino vs. Bellinger, Seager, Muncy, Kershaw, and Ryu. Rosters that are obscenely talented, managed by two men (Dave Roberts and Aaron Boone) who know how to utilize depth in the face of constant injuries.
Most other fanbases would despise having to sit through this match-up, and understandably so. But even those who hate the Dodgers and/or Yankees have to admit the game is at its best when they are at their respective best. And it’s been almost 40 years since the last WS meeting. It’s time for another.
Look…you knew this would be saved for last. One way or another, the 2017 World Series and its seemingly endless regrets unifies every Dodgers fan as much as loving Vin Scully and Clayton Kershaw. We just can’t escape it, much as we wish we could.
It’s a stretch to call the Astros a more hated WS rival than the Yankees. There simply isn’t a comparable level of shared history. But in the two years since their instant classic battle, Houston has quickly morphed from the seemingly lovable hurricane-purging heroes to a franchise almost comical in its villainy. (Two words: Zero tolerance.)
And it’s not like they were really that wholesome in 2017. Josh Reddick’s obnoxious obsession with getting revenge on L.A. fans was truly pathetic. Far, far worse was Yuli Gurriel’s racist gesture to Yu Darvish. One that was embarrassingly applauded and imitated by fans at Minute Maid Park to boot.
Those instances of classlessness and infantilism stick in the craw even more compared to last year’s Red Sox team, so composed in their dominance it was hard to muster any resentment when they finished off L.A. with relative ease.
A rematch with the Other Hated Team in Orange and Black would be the ultimate endgame for this era of Dodger baseball. On the one hand, it would be the ultimate catharsis, a purging of perhaps the most painful memory that would only amplify the glory (think the Red Sox beating the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS).
But if they lost again…whoo boy, that’s unfathomable. Gurriel and Reddick dancing on our graves again would be just the tip of the iceberg. The Dodgers would officially be the Buffalo Bills of baseball, and we’d never live it down. Ever.
Personally, I’d rather not see a second installment of Dodgers-Astros. The 2017 World Series (chiefly anger over the Gurriel incident) is tied to too many traumatic memories from that time in my life. Call me soft, but I just don’t want to relive it at all.
Objectively, though, I cannot deny it would have the juiciest narrative on every level. The Brooklyn Dodgers won the first title in 1955 by finally beating the Yankees after all that pinstripe-induced heartbreak. For the L.A. equivalent of ‘55, this would be the most fitting.
Postseason play for Los Angeles begins on October 3rd and the team will once again start chipping away at 11 more victories en route to the ultimate goal. However, 3 of these teams will be standing in their way.
Who concerns you the most?